Microhoods: Small, Cheap, & Under Control?
Too long, didn’t read: LOVELAND’s working on a system that divides Detroit into many small sections that people with local knowledge can easily explore and update information about. Put the many small sections (AKA Microhoods) together, hold your face a foot away, stare into the distance, and a city comes into focus.
Surprise surprise. LOVELAND Technologies has cleared off some desk space in the lab to start piecing together a new crowdsourced map app called Microhoods. It’s another theme-and-variation on our mapping work like Living In The Map, Why Don’t We Own This?, the Call To Action service map, Site Control, etc.
The basic need is this: Detroit is massive (140 square miles) and has massively widespread disinvestment, vacancy, and the attendant problems that come with that. Really, this is all so massive (massively massive) that many people write the city’s problems off as intractable, and who can blame them? As the city has shrunk from 2 million people to 700,000, at least 1/3 of the city is empty and untended, there are more than 45,000 unintentionally government-owned properties, and 70,000 empty structures.
On top of that there is no good way to keep live record of the situation on the ground (data doesn’t exist or gets old fast), share problems and opportunities (what’s broken, blighted, empty, and/or ready for change?), and invite support for existing projects as well as investment (who’s working on what or wants what where?).
If we wanted to start attacking those problems in order it would go something like:
• Create a system whereby areas of the city are more manageably sized
• Share as much information as is already known about these places
• Invite people to contribute their on-the-ground knowledge of what’s going on (or not going on) where
• Encourage people to advertise opportunities to help and invest (including plugging in and pointing to people fundraising, volunteering, selling property, etc on various other services)
OK. If you squint your mind’s eye at the problem with us, you can see the outline of a possible solution.
Larry’s whipped up an interactive grid of the city based on 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile areas (AKA microhoods). They run A - Z from north to south (how convenient) and 1 - 30-something west to east.
When you drill down to a microhood you get all the parcels that comprise it, a way to toggle layers of information on and off (want to see property ownership? all local block clubs and service organizations? local projects and fundraisers? user-generated content?), update-able survey questions, and a way to say what’s really happening on any parcel.
Over the Easter weekend I’ve been poking around the alpha site making notes. From across the years a mantra came back to mind: “fast, cheap, and out of control.” MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks coined the phrase in an essay back in 1989, proposing a new way to explore other planets using swarms of cheap decentralized robots. What we’re thinking about with Microhoods might be surprisingly similar in some ways, but instead of swarms of robots exploring distant planets, it’s crowds of people exploring Detroit.
Some fun with remixes, here’s the short introduction to the 1989 essay with inerspliced with microhood updates in bold:
Fast, Cheap And Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of The Universe
Small, Cheap, & Under Control: A People’s Inventory of Detroit
Complex systems and complex missions take years of planning and force launches to become incredibly expensive.
Complex top-down urban planning projects take years and become incredibly expensive both financially and politically.
The longer the planning and the more expensive the mission, the more catastrophic if it fails.
The longer the planning and the more expensive the mission, the less responsive to changes on the ground, the more detached from residents, and the more disheartening if it fails.
The solution has always been to plan better, add redundancy, test thoroughly and use high quality components.
The solution has always been add multiple review boards, triple-check the data, test thoroughly against precedents in other places, and use high quality contractors.
Based on our experience in building ground based mobile robots (legged and wheeled) we argue here for cheap, fast missions using large numbers of mass produced simple autonomous robots that are small by today’s standards (1 to 2 Kg).
Based on our experience in building city mapping and crowdsourcing software (desktop and mobile) we argue here for cheap, fast missions using large numbers of ordinary people equipped with local knowledge, laptops, smartphones, and pen-and-paper.
We argue that the time between mission conception and implementation can be radically reduced, that launch mass can be slashed, that totally autonomous robots can be more reliable than ground controlled robots, and that large numbers of robots can change the tradeoff between reliability of individual components and overall mission success.
We argue that the time between mission conception and implementation can be radically reduced, that budgets can be slashed, that passionate residents and volunteers can be more reliable and informed than paid professionals, and that large numbers of contributors can change the tradeoff between reliability of any individual contributions and overall mission success.
Lastly, we suggest that within a few years it will be possible at modest cost to invade a planet with millions of tiny robots.
Lastly, we suggest that within a couple years it will be possible at modest cost for millions of people to meaningfully invest in a renewed Detroit that makes sense on a sustainable local level.
Like everything, to be continued…
PS I also recommend checking out the Errol Morris film “Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control” that features Rodney Brooks and 3 other…obsessively curious and dedicated people: